Monthly Archives: February 2014

Three More Questions about God’s Allowing Suffering

Yesterday (Thursday) evening Leonora and I attended the weekly meeting of our church’s Life group hosted by Roland and Sherry Loder. Nine attended the meeting, and we studied these sections of Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? booklet (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Multnomah Books, 2010):
– “Why Hasn’t God Made the Reasons for Our Suffering More Clear?”
– “Can We Really Trust God to Use Our Suffering for Good?”
– “Is Suffering Really Necessary to Build Our Character?”

In our previous meeting I’d asked the group to read the three sections before yesterday’s meeting to see how Randy Alcorn answers each question. Observing that Alcorn answers the questions posed in the second and third sections with “Yes,” I’d explained that what they should look for in those sections was why they can be answered with “Yes.” Under the weather with a cold, I didn’t contribute much to yesterday’s discussion of the three sections. However the others came well prepared and we had a good (but short) discussion of them. As usual the study was preceded and followed by singing and prayer.

Why Hasn’t God Made the Reasons for Our Suffering More Clear?

Randy Alcorn’s answer is that because of our limited understanding God just lets us know what we really need to know, which may not be all that we want to know, and asks us to trust Him. He gives two examples–Job, and Scott and Janet Willis. The latter was a couple who lost six of their children when a truck driver allowed a large object to drop onto a freeway in front of their van causing their gas tank to explode. Although describing their pain as “indescribable,” they told Alcorn when he interviewed them fourteen years later that they had a stronger view of God’s sovereignty than ever before, a strength gained by turning to God for help in dealing with their loss.

Can We Really Trust God to Use Our Suffering for Good?

Randy Alcorn answers “Yes” and supports his answer by considering Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (ESV). The “all things” in the life of the author of the verse, Paul, included sufferings as well as glorious experiences. Alcorn describes how once he tasted each of the ingredients that his mother had out to make a chocolate cake with. Most of them tasted terrible by themselves, but the cake that his mother made from them tasted delicious. Similarly many parts of our lives may taste bad by themselves, but God mixes them together to produce something good.

Is Suffering Really Necessary to Build Our Character?

Randy Alcorn answers “Yes” and supports his answer by comparing God’s turning us into the image of Christ with Michelangelo’s making his statue of David and by considering Romans 5:3-4, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (ESV). Michelangelo made his statue of David by choosing a stone that other artists had rejected and chipping away everything that wasn’t David, changing the huge marble block into something beautiful. Similarly we may need the “chiseling effect of loss, hardship, sickness, and even tragedy before we adequately recognize our true weakness, and need for and dependence on God” (booklet, page 66) so that He can turn us into the image of Christ.

The Humanity of Christ

How is Jesus fully God and fully man, yet one person? About a week ago my family and I began considering this question in our family Bible reading time, guided by Wayne Grudem’s discussion of it in Chapter 26, “The Person of Christ,” of his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994). Last week we considered Jesus’ virgin birth and his humanity, this week we’re considering his deity, and next week we’ll consider how his deity and humanity are united in the one person of Christ.

The Human Characteristics of Jesus

Jesus had a human body just like ours, as is shown in many Bible passages. For example, he was born (Luke 2:7), grew (Luke 2:40), and died (Mark 15:37). And he experienced hunger (Matthew 4:2), thirst (John 19:28), tiredness (John 4:6), and weakness (Luke 23:26; his displaying weakness would be the probable reason for the soldiers’ making someone else carry his cross).

Jesus had a human mind. For example, as a child/youth he “increased in wisdom” (Luke 2:52; this suggests that he learned as other human beings learn) and even as an adult had limited knowledge (“Concerning that day or hour [the time of his second coming], no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father,” Mark 13:32, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).

Jesus displayed human emotions. For example, he “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death” (Hebrews 5:7; although this passage brings Jesus’ prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane to mind, “in the days on his flesh” suggests that Jesus made such prayers throughout his life) and before his crucifixion even admitted to a crowd that he felt troubled (John 12:27).

Jesus’ brothers and neighbours viewed him as only a man. For example, the Bible tells us that after Jesus began his ministry his brothers didn’t believe in him (John 7:5) and even tried to seize him thinking that he was out of his mind (Mark 3:21). And, astonished by Jesus’ teachings and miracles, the people of Nazareth rejected him, saying, “Where did this man get these things?… Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and James and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:2-3).

The Sinlessness of Jesus

The New Testament affirms that although Jesus was fully human he didn’t commit sin during his earthly life. Jesus told a group of people, “I always do the things that are pleasing to him [God]” (John 8:29), indicating both that he was sinless and that he was always doing things that were pleasing to God. Shortly afterwards he asked them, “Which one of convicts me of sin?” and the only answer that they could give was, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (John 8:46,48). Paul describes Jesus as “him…who knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21); the writer of Hebrews describes him as a high priest “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” and “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners” (Hebrews 4:15; 7:26); and Peter affirms that “he committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22).

Could Jesus have sinned? Grudem has a full discussion of this question. He argues that since Jesus’ human and divine natures coexisted, his sinning would have involved God in a sin, which was impossible (“God cannot be tempted with evil,” James 1:13). Thus Grudem infers that Jesus was <i>impeccable</i> or “not able to sin.” To the objection that Jesus’ being unable to sin would make the temptations referred to by the writer of Hebrews (“[Jesus] in every respect has been tempted as we are,” Hebrews 4:15) unreal, Grudem suggests that although Jesus’ divine nature could not be tempted his human nature could be. However it seems logical that if Jesus could be tempted in his human nature but not in his
divine nature, then he could have sinned in his human nature but not in his divine nature. Whatever, the important thing is that he didn’t sin and thus can serve as “our high priest…who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

The Necessity of Jesus’ Humanity

Gruden suggests and explains seven reasons why Jesus had to be fully man. Here I’ll just list the reasons that he gives and for each provide the reference for a Bible passage supporting it.
1. To be our representative and obey for us where Adam had disobeyed (Romans 5:18-19).
2. To be a substitute sacrifice (Romans 3:24-25).
3. To mediate between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5).
4. To fulfil God’s purpose for man to rule over creation (Hebrews 2:6-9).
5. To be our example (1 John 2:6).
6. To be the pattern for our heavenly bodies (1 Corinthians 15:49).
7. To sympathize with us as our high priest (Hebrews 2:17-18).

The Permanence of Jesus’ Humanity

Jesus didn’t give up his human nature after his death and resurrection. He still had “flesh and bones” and ate food (Luke 24:39-43) when he appeared to the disciples, and he showed them the marks in his hands and side from the crucifixion (John 20:25-27). On a later occasion while he was talking with them he was taken up to heaven still in his resurrection body, and two angels told them, “This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). From these and other Bible passages Grudem concludes, “Jesus will remain fully God and fully man, yet one person, forever” (page 543).

The Virgin Birth

The term “Virgin Birth” refers to Jesus’ being conceived in Mary by the Holy Spirit without a human father and born while she was still a virgin. Although it has been affirmed by the Christian Church throughout its history, the virgin birth is the most contested event in the life of Jesus next to the resurrection. Here I’ll give the Biblical evidence for the virgin birth, consider some objections made to it, and identify some ways in which it is important doctrinally.

Biblical Evidence for the Virgin Birth

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”…24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)

26 The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary….30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus….34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God.”…38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)

Objections Made to the Virgin Birth

Many objections have been made to the virgin birth, including these identified and commented on by Millard J. Erickson:
– The brothers of Jesus did not believe in him during his ministry (John 7:5), suggesting that they didn’t know of a virgin birth. However it’s possible that Mary (and Joseph) hadn’t yet told them of it.
– The New Testament is silent about the birth of Jesus except for the two passages quoted above. However, as Theodore M. Dorman points out, “This is an argument from silence, however, and carries no force when we keep two things in mind: (1) only Matthew and Luke write anything at all about Jesus’ birth, and (2) the Birth narratives are historical accounts, not theological interpretations” (Theodore M. Dorman, “Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ,” in The International Standard Encyclopedia of the Bible, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988; volume 4, page 992).
– There are parallel accounts in the literature of other religions. Dale Moody responds, “The yawning chasm between these pagan myths of polytheistic promiscuity and the lofty monotheism of the virgin birth of Jesus is too wide for careful research to cross” (Dale Moody, “Virgin Birth,” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, ed. George Arthur Buttrick; New York: Abingdon Press, 1962; volume 4, page 791).
– The virgin birth cannot be reconciled with the preexistence of Christ. However his preexistence relates to Jesus’ deity and the virgin birth relates to his humanity.
(Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, third edition; Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Publishing Group, 2013; pages 683-687)

Doctrinal Importance of the Virgin Birth

Wayne Grudem considers these three ways in which the virgin birth is of doctrinal importance:
1. It shows that salvation ultimately comes from God. As Galatians 4:4-5 says, “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive adoption as sons.”
2. It made possible the uniting of deity and humanity in one person. God could have sent His Son into the world as a man in other ways (Grudem considers two other ways), but the virgin birth was the best way for Him to do it so that both Jesus’ deity and his humanity were evident.
3. It made possible Christ’s humanity without inheriting a corrupt nature from Adam. But wouldn’t he inherit a corrupt nature from Mary? Grudem suggests that when the Holy Spirit caused her to conceive Jesus He also prevented the transmission of sin from her to Jesus.
(Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology; Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994; pages 330-32)

Is belief in the virgin birth necessary? John M. Frame replies, “It is possible to be saved without believing it…[b]ut to reject the virgin birth is to reject God’s Word, which is always serious. Further, disbelief in the virgin birth may lead to compromise in those other areas of doctrine with which it is vitally concerned” (John M. Frame, “Virgin Birth of Jesus,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell; Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984; page 1145).

The New Covenant

6 Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old [old = the ministry of the Levitical priests] as the covenant he mediates is better [than the Mosaic covenant], since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. 8 For he finds fault with them when he says:

“Behold the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” (quoted from Jeremiah 31:31-34)

13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

During the past week my family and I continued to study the covenants between God and man, guided by Wayne Grudem’s consideration of them in Chapter 25, “The Covenants Between God and Man” of his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994), in our family Bible reading time. In the previous week we’d considered the three covenants of Covenant Theology–the Covenant of Works, the Covenant of Redemption, and the Covenant of Grace–and the first seven of the eight dispensational covenants identified in The New Scofield Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967)–the Edenic covenant, the Adamic covenant, the Noahic covenant, the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, the Palestinian covenant, and the Davidic covenant. In the past week we studied the eighth of the dispensational covenants, the new covenant described in the passage quoted above, Hebrews 8:6-13 (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).

We began by considering what Jesus said about the new covenant when instituting the Lord’s Supper, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me,” and Paul’s comment on what Jesus said, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:25-26; we also read one of the Synoptic records of what Jesus said, Luke 22:20). We observed that the “cup” (or the Lord’s Supper itself) symbolizes the new covenant, that “new” distinguishes the covenant from the Mosaic covenant, that “my blood” indicates that Jesus’ forthcoming death on the cross constituted a sacrifice to God, that we are to observe the Lord’s Supper regularly, and that Jesus is going to come again.

Next we considered what Paul said about the relationship between the promises of the Abrahamic covenant and the obligations of the Mosaic covenant, the Law, in Galatians 3:15-29. We included this passage in our study because some theologians view the new covenant as the Abrahamic covenant extended to Gentiles, something suggested by God’s telling Abraham, “In you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Paul affirms that the promises of the Abraham covenant were not cancelled by the Law, “The law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void” (Galatians 3:17), and he explains that God added the Law to reveal people’s sin and how much they need a Saviour, “It [the Law] was added because of transgressions, until the offspring [Christ, according to 3:16] should come to whom the promise [the promise of the Abrahamic covenant] had been made” (3:19).

Then we considered Jeremiah 31:31-34 (quoted above). We observed that the new covenant was to be between God and Israel / Judah, that it would replace or renew the Mosaic covenant, and that it would include these promises:
– God would write His laws in people’s minds and hearts instead of on tablets of stone.
– God and His people would have the relationship that I identified as His goal in my last post, “I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people” (Leviticus 26:12; cited in 2 Corinthians 6:16).
– There would be no need for any of His people to teach others to know Him because all of them would know Him.
– God would forgive their sins.

Finally we considered Hebrews 8:6-13 (quoted above). After noting that the description of the new covenant in 8:8-12 is a quotation of Jeremiah 31:31-34, we observed that Jesus Christ is mediator of the new covenant (8:6) and that the new covenant replaced (not just renewed) the old covenant (8:13). As well we inferred from Hebrews 9:15, “He [Christ] is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance,” and 1 Corinthians 1:24, “those who are called, both Jews and Gentiles,” that the new covenant includes the Church as well as Israel.

J. Rodway Williams concludes his consideration of the new covenant by demonstrating that–except for the promise of an eternal inheritance, which can’t be fulfilled for a person until after this life–all “promises of the new covenant…are completely fulfilled” (Williams, page 303; see Bibliography).


To prepare for our family study of the new covenant, I read the expositions on the new covenant in my Bible dictionaries / encyclopedias and theological books and the comments on 1 Corinthians 11:25-26, Galatians 3:15-29, Jeremiah 33:31-34, and Hebrews 8:6-13 in some of my commentaries. Although I benefited from all of them, these stood out to me:
– Calvin. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Edited by John T. McNeill and translated by Ford Lewis Battles. Volumes XX-XXI of The Library of Christian Classics. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960. Pages 423-64.
– McCaig, Archibald. “Covenant, The New.” In The International Bible Encyclopedia, edited by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. 4 volumes. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979-88. Volume one, pages 795-97.
– Pentecost, J. Dwight. Things To Come. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zonderan, 1958. Pages 116-28. Pentecost argues that Jeremiah 31:31-34 applies just to Israel and not to the Church and that it won’t be realized until the Millenium.
– Pink, Arthur W. An Exposition of Hebrews. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1954. Pages 436-59.
– Williams, J. Rodman. Renewal Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1988-92. Volume one, pages 299-303.

The Health and Wealth Gospel

Thursday evening (this is Sunday) Leonora and I attended the weekly meeting of our church’s Life group hosted by Roland and Sherry Loder. Twelve attended the meeting, and we studied the section “How True Are the ‘Health and Wealth Theology’ Claims About Escaping Suffering?” of Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? booklet (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Multnomah Books, 2010). As usual the study was preceded and followed by singing and prayer. It was also followed by a lunch in recognition of the next day’s being Valentine’s Day.

Alcorn opens the section with this story:

A woman lay dying of cancer. She had believed the teaching that says God will always bless with material abundance and good health those who obey him and lay claim to his promises. But now she also looked into a camera during an interview and said, “I have lost my faith.” She felt bitter that God had, she said, “broken his promises.” This woman correctly realized that the god she’d followed does not exist. But the God of the Bible had not let her down; her church and its preachers did. God never made the promises she thought he’d broken.” (How the Health and Weath Gospel Perverts Our View of Suffering and Evil)

Alcorn continues by commenting on the popularity of the “name it and claim it” message among religious people and by quoting how Crefto A. Dollar Jr., the author of Total Life Prosperity, defines it:

Biblical prosperity is the ability to be in control of every circumstance and situation that occurs in your life. No matter what happens, whether financial, social, physical, marital, spiritual, or emotional, this type of prosperity enables you to maintain control in every situation. (Crefto A. Dollar, Jr. Total Life Prosperity. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1999. page x; quoted in How the Health and Weath Gospel Perverts Our View of Suffering and Evil)

Alcorn goes on to assert that the view is a false one, claiming that it misrepresents the Gospel and sets people up to believe with the woman in the opening story that God has been untrue to His promises.

Alcorn devotes the rest of the section to presenting the Biblical view of what Christians should expect regarding health and wealth. However before reading it in our Life group meeting, we read some Bible passages often quoted by teachers of the health and wealth gospel and discussed how those teachers might use them in support of their view:
– “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (Malachi 3:10, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).
– “Ask and it will be given you” (Matthew 7:7).
– “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
– “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:23).
– “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul” (3 John 2).

Although God will us from eternal suffering, He doesn’t promise that He will deliver us from present suffering. In fact He tells us in such passages as the following that we will experience it:
– “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33).
– “It has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29).

However He offers us encouragement:
– “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13; I understand “no temptation” to refer to trials in general rather than just to the temptation to idolatry that Paul warns the Corinthians against in the surrounding verses).
– “Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12).

Alcorn suggests that we should use times of financial hardship to repent of past greed and foolishness and should accept that God can accomplish His purposes even when we lose our health and he chooses not to heal us. He observes that although sometimes God heals people, such healing is temporary and all of us going to die eventually unless Jesus returns in our lifetime. As Alcorn observes, “Only resurrection healing will be permanent!” (Alcorn, If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? page 59)

Thus instead of supporting the “name it and claim it” teaching of health and wealth theology, the Bible challenges Christians to proclaim with Paul, “Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21).

The Covenants Between God and Man

“I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people” (Leviticus 26:12, ESV; cited in 2 Corinthians 6:16; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).

Since He made man, God has told people how He wants them to act and made promises to them of how He will act toward them in various circumstances. The Bible contains several summaries of man’s obligations and God’s promises which theologians call “covenants.” Although the dictionary defines a “covenant” as “a solemn agreement between two or more persons or groups to do or not do something specified,” all the covenants between God and man recognized by theologians were imposed by God rather than arrived at by consultation between Him and man. His basic idea in all of them is expressed in what He told the Isralites in the passage quoted above.

During the past week my family and I have been considering in our family Bible reading time the covenants between God and man recognized by theologians, guided by Wayne Grudem’s consideration of them in Chapter 25, “The Covenants Between God and Man” of his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994) and, because it focuses on the three covenants of Covenant Theology rather than on the dispensational covenants that I was familiar with from The New Scofield Reference Bible, by the resources listed in the Bibliography at the end of this post. Throughout the post I’ll refer to those resources by author and/or title; see the Bibliography for more information about them.

Covenant Theology, which was developed by some of the early Reformers, identifies three covenants: the Covenant of Works, the Covenant of Redemption, and the Covenant of Grace. Although my family and I read all that Grudem says about them, here I’ll give just definitions of them. The Covenant of Works is the covenant that God made with Adam and Eve on creating them. The Covenant of Redemption is the covenant between God the Father and God the Son regarding the salvation of mankind. The Covenant of Grace is the covenant between God and His people, mediated by Christ, regarding His providing salvation for them. The best survey that I have of Covenant Theology is Osterhaven’s article on it in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (279-80), and the fullest exposition that I have of it is Berkhof’s in his Systematic Theology (211-18; 262-301).

However the Bible actually portrays God as entering into several covenants with people, each of them being imposed by Him and including an obligation and a promise. Here I’ll comment briefly on the first seven of the eight covenants identified in The New Scofield Reference Bible: the Edenic covenant, the Adamic covenant, the Noahic covenant, the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, the Palestinian covenant, the Davidic covenant, and the New Covenant. Covenant Theology calls the Edenic covenant “the Covenant of Works” and views the other covenants identified in The New Scofield Reference Bible as forms of the Covenant of Grace. When our family encountered each of them in our reading of Grudem’s Systematic Theology, we read the Bible passage(s) establishing it and noted how it qualified as a covenant. I’ll consider the New Covenant in next Tuesday’s post.

The Edenic Covenant

28 Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over living thing that moves on the earth. . . . 29 Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and very tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food. . . . 16 You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it shall surely die. (Genesis 1:28-30 [God is speaking to Adam and Eve] and 2:16-17 [God is speaking to Adam])

Although the word “covenant” isn’t used in the Biblical account of the Edenic covenant, the essential parts of a covenant are there: two parties–God and Adam / Eve), an obligation–God’s commands in the passages quoted and “to work [the Garden of Eden] and keep it” (Genesis 2:15), and a promise–eternal life (it is implied in the threat of death for disobedience). Moreover Hosea 6:7, “Like Adam they transgressed the covenant,” implies a covenant relationship between God and Adam.

The Edenic Covenant is also known as the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Life. Grudem prefers “Covenant of Works” because “participation in the blessings of the covenant clearly depended on obedience or ‘works’ on the part of Adam and Eve” (Grudem, page 517). On the other hand, J. Rodman Williams argues, “It is not a ‘covenant of works’ in the sense that man is granted life on condition of obedience, as if eternal life would be achieved by <i>not</i> eating of the forbidden tree. Rather, this life is granted to man through his continuance in fellowship with God and partaking of the ‘tree of life.'” He prefers “Covenant of Life” because “life–eternal life–is the promise” (Williams, 277-78).

The fullest accounts that I have of the Edenic Covenant besides the one in Grudem’s Systematic Theology (516-18) are those by Berkhof (pages 211-18) and Williams (pages 276-79).

The Adamic Covenant

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his head. (Genesis 3:15; God is speaking to Satan)

Again the word “covenant” isn’t used in the Biblical account of the covenant but the essential parts of a covenant are there. Imposed on Adam and Eve by God after their fall and conditioning mankind’s life until Jesus’ return, it includes the curses put on Satan (Genesis 3:14-15), Eve (3:16), and Adam (3:17-19) and the promise of a redeemer (3:15).

The fullest accounts that I have of the Adamic covenant are those in The New Scofield Reference Bible (page 7, note 2) and by Berkhof (pages 293-94).

The Noahic Covenant

9 Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you . . . 11 that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth. 12 . . . This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all generations. I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth…16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth. (Genesis 9:8-16; God is speaking to Noah and his sons)

The Noahic covenant consists of a promise made by God to Noah and his sons, their descendants, and all living creatures–that another universal flood would not occur–without an obligation being placed on them. It is the first of God’s covenants with man to include a sign, the rainbow.

The fullest accounts of the Noahic covenant that I have are those by Berkhof (pages 294-95) and Williams (pages 279-80).

The Abrahamic Covenant

1 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” 4 So Abram went as the LORD had told him . . . to the land of Canaan. . . . 7 Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there [at Shechem] an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. (Genesis 12:1-7)

The Abrahamic covenant consists of a promise made by God to Abraham that if he would go to a land which God would show him God would give him and his descendants that land, he would have so many descendants that they couldn’t be counted, and all families of the earth would be blessed in him. When Abraham was in that land (Canaan), God renewed His promise to him several times (Genesis 13:14-17; 15:1-21; 17:1-21; and 22:15-18). On one of those occasions God gave him a sign that he would possess Canaan (15:8-17), and on another of them God instituted circumcision as a sign of God’s covenant with him and his offspring (Genesis 17:9-14). God reaffirmed the Abrahamic covenant with Isaac (Genesis 26:2-5) and Jacob (Genesis 28:13-15).

The fullest accounts of the Abrahamic covenant that I have are those by Berhof (pages 295-97), Pentecost (pages 65-94), and Williams (pages 280-89).

The Mosaic Covenant

3 Israel encamped before the mountain [Mount Sinai], 4 while Moses went up to God. The LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel” 4 You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” (Exodus 19:3-6)

Following this God gave the Israelites numerous rules collectively referred to as “the Law”, including the familiar Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), and they participated in a ritual confirming the covenant between God and them (24:3-8). Paul refers to the Mosaic covenant as “the old covenant” (2 Corinthians 3:14). I’ll consider what he and others refer to as “the new covenant” and contrast it with “the old covenant” in next Tuesday’s post.

The fullest accounts of the Mosaic covenant that I have are those by Berkhof (pages 297-99) and Williams (pages 289-94).

The Palestinian Covenant

Deuteronomy 29:1 says, “These are the words of the covenant that the LORD commanded Moses to make with the people of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant that he had made with them at Horeb [another name for Mount Sinai].” Bible scholars disagree on whether “these” refers to what precedes or what follows the passage and on whether “the covenant that the LORD commanded Moses to make with the people of Israel in the land of Moab” was a new covenant or a renewal of “the covenant that he had made with them at Horeb.” The Scofield Reference Bible takes “these” to refer to Deuteronomy 29-30 and “the covenant that the LORD commanded Moses to make with the people of Israel in the land of Moab” to be a new covenant, and it calls the new covenant the “Palestinian Covenant.”

However I understand “the covenant that the LORD commanded Moses to make with the people of Israel in the land of Moab” to be a renewal of “the covenant that he had made with them at Horeb” and “these” to refer to both what precedes and what follows Deuteronomy 29:1, comprising at least Deuteronomy 27-30 and possibly even Deuteronomy 1-30. As Donald C. Stamps observes, “To conquer the land of Canaan successfully would require their [the Israelites’] commitment to this covenant [the Mosaic covenant] and the assurance that the Lord God would be with them” (The Full Life Study Bible, page 291).

The Davidic Covenant

8 Now, therefore, thus therefore shall you [Nathan the prophet] say to my servant David, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. 9 And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all my enemies. Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I shall establish his kingdom forever. 14 I shall be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” (2 Samuel 7:8-16)

Psalm 89 also describes the Davidic covenant. The covenant includes promises by God to David that He would establish the kingdom of his son, Solomon, who would build a house for Him (Solomon’s Temple), and that He would establish David’s house and kingdom forever. It also includes an obligation on David’s offspring to be faithful to God, His warning that He would punish them if they forsook Him and His law. Hebrews 1:5 applies “I shall be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son” to Christ.

The fullest accounts of the Davidic Covenant that I have are those by Pentecost (pages 100-15) and Williams (pages 294-303).


To prepare for our family study of the covenants between God and man, I read numerous articles and book chapters about them. Listed below are the ones, besides Grudem’s Systematic Theology, that I’ve cited in this post. Note that Berkhof and Osterhaven are from a Covenant Theology perspective and The New Scofield Reference Bible and Pentecost are from a dispensationalist perspective.

The New Scofield Reference Bible. Edited by C.I. Scofield. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967. I was given a copy of the 1917 edition by my parents on my tenth birthday and a copy of the 1967 edition by my first wife shortly after it was published. It has notes on the Edenic covenant, the Adamic covenant, the Noahic covenant, the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, the Palestinian covenant, the Davidic covenant, and the New Covenant.
The Full Life Study Bible. Edited by Donald C. Stamps. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1992. It has articles on God’s covenants with Abraham, the Israelites, and David and on the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.
– Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1939. Its chapter “Man in the Covenant of Works” (pages 211-18) and its section “Man in the Covenant of Grace” (pages 262-301) consider the covenants of Covenant Theology. “Man in the Covenant of Grace” includes a chapter, “The Different Dispensations of the Covenant” (pages 290-301), that considers God’s covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Israel and the New Covenant.
– Osterhaven, M. Eugene. “Covenant Theology.” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Walter A. Elwell, pages 279-80. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984.
– Pentecost, J. Dwight. Things To Come. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zonderan, 1958. It has chapters on the Abrahamic covenant, the Palestinian covenant, the Davidic covenant, and the New Covenant.
– Williams, J. Rodman. Renewal Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1988-92. Its chapter “Covenant” (Volume One, pages 275-303) considers God’s covenants with Adam (the Edenic covenant), Noah, Abraham, Israel, and David and the New Covenant.

Heaven and Hell

20. And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
21. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
22. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
23. “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!
24. “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
25. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
26. “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
27. “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.”
(Luke 6:20-26, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)

Thursday evening (this is Saturday) Leonora and I attended the weekly meeting of our church’s Life group hosted by Roland and Sherry Loder. All ten members attended the meeting, which was held at Rosalie Lane’s instead of Roland and Sherry’s, and we studied the section “Can We Be Sure That Someday We’ll Be Free of Suffering and Evil?” of Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? booklet (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Multnomah Books, 2010). As usual the study was preceded and followed by singing and prayer.

We opened the study by reading Luke 6:20-26 (quoted above), after which I read from the introduction to Chapter 28, “Heaven, Eternal Grace to Unworthy but Grateful Children,” of Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good : Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil book (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2009). Alcorn observes that in the Bible passage Jesus addressed the same problem as If God Is Good is about, the problem of the righteous suffering and the wicked prospering, and indicated that God’s solution to the problem is Heaven for the righteous and Hell for the wicked. We then discussed the images that came to our minds when we thought of Heaven and Hell.

I noted that in the Bible Jesus spoke more about Hell than anybody else did and that he referred to it as a real place. Then I had read these passages in which Jesus spoke about Hell and we discussed after the reading of each passage what it tells us about Hell.
– “Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:40-42).
– “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43-48).
– “The sons of the kingdom will be thrown into outer darkness. In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12).
– The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).

I had read what the booklet says about Heaven, including these Bible passages:
– “I consider that the sufferings of this present age are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
– “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 21:4).

We closed with an interesting and somewhat entertaining discussion about what and whom we’ll remember from this life when we’re in Heaven.

Actual Sin

What happens when a Christian sins? Are there degrees of sin? What is the unpardonable sin?

During the past week my family and I considered these questions in our family Bible reading time, guided by Wayne Grudem’s discussion of them in Chapter 24, “Sin” of his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994).

What happens when a Christian sins?

The New Testament speaks often of the harmful effects of a Christian’s sinning. For example, Paul warns that it will enslave him to sin, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to death” (Romans 6:16). Thus God disciplines the Christian who sins, “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10) and threatens him with the loss of heavenly reward, “If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives [when it is tested by fire], he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:14-15).

These passages raise the question of whether or not a Christian can lose his salvation. Grudem asserts that he can’t, arguing that as a child of God–“Beloved, we are God’s children, now” (1 John 3:2)–he is a permanent part of God’s family. Referring to the warning of Jesus in Matthew 7:22-23, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'” Grudem suggests that a long-term pattern of disobedience to Christ by a professed Christian indicates that he never was a true Christian.

However on the basis of such passages as Hebrews 6:4-6, “It is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt,” I believe that a Christian can apostatize and lose his salvation.

I’ll consider this question more fully when my family and I read in our family Bible-reading time Chapter 40, “The Perseverance of Saints (Remaining a Christian),” of Grudem’s Systematic Theology.

Are there degrees of sin?

In my last post I defined sin as the breaking of the law of God. Moses told the people of Israel, “Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them” (Deuteronomy 27:28, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV), indicating that breaking any of the laws that God had given them would make them guilty before God and liable to punishment by Him. James tells his readers the same thing, “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law'” (James 2:10-11). Thus, in one sense all sins are equally bad because our committing any of them makes us guilty before God.

However some sins are worse than others because they bring more dishonour to God or because they cause more harm to ourselves or others. When God showed Ezekiel in a vision four scenes of idolatry in the Temple, He referred to them as “great abominations…still greater abominations…still greater abominations [and] still greater abominations” (Ezekiel 6:6, 6, 12, 15). In pronouncing woes on the scribes and Pharisees, he recognized that they had tithed scrupulously but said that they had “neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23).

Moreover those sins that are done deliberately are more displeasing to God than those that are done unintentionally. Thus under the Law provision was made for unintentional sin’s being atoned for but deliberate sin was to be punished: “If one person sins unintentionally, he shall offer a female goat a year old for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement before the LORD for the person . . . and he shall be forgiven. . . . But the person who does anything with a high hand . . . that person shall be cut off from among his people” (Numbers 15:27-30).

As well God expects more of leaders than of others. Thus Moses and Aaron were not allowed to enter the Promised Land because of their not following exactly God’s instructions for providing water to the people. And James says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1).

What is the unpardonable sin?

On one occasion when he was accused of casting out demons with the help of Satan, Jesus asserted, “All sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:28-29; see also Matthew 12:31-32 and Luke 12:10). Grudem’s consideration of the unpardonable sin follows Louis Berkhof’s closely.

Both Berkhof and Grudem identify these views of what the unpardonable sin is:
– a sin that could be committed only while Christ was on earth
– unbelief until the time of death
– apostasy by genuine believers
– malicious, wilful rejection of the Holy Spirit’s witness to Christ, attributing it to Satan

Both argue for the fourth view, claiming that the sin consists “not in doubting the truth, nor in a simple denial of it, but in a contradiction of it that goes contrary to the conviction of the mind, to the illumination of the conscience, and even to the verdict of the heart” (Grudem, page 509, quoting Berkhof). Berhof continues, “In committing that sin man wilfully, maliciously, and intentionally attributes what is clearly recognized as the work of God to the influence and operation of Satan” (Berkhof – see Bibliography below, page 253).

Both also observe that since the unpardonable sin doesn’t include repentance, “we may be reasonably sure that they who fear that they have committed it and worry about this, and who desire the prayers of others for them, have not committed it” (Grudem, page 509, quoting Berkhof).


All my Bible dictionaries/encyclopedias and systematic theology textbooks have comprehensive articles/chapters on sin, the topic of this and last Tuesday’s posts. These are the articles/chapters cited from them in the posts:
– Berkhof, Louis. “Man in the State of Sin.” Systematic Theology. Fourth edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939. Pages 219-261.
– Erickson, Millard J. “Sin.” Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2013. Pages 511-599.
– Strong, Augustus Strong. “Sin, or Man’s State of Apostasy.” Systematic Theology. Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1907. Pages 533-664.